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Local Farms Get High Tech Help from ULM Drone Program

The drone program of the University of Louisiana Monroe is working with local farmers to improve crop yields and conserve time.

Associate Professor of Geosciences Dr. Sean Chenoweth and Associate Professor of Aviation Dr. Paul Karlowitz established this program three years ago to not only help local farmers but also to make potential clients aware of the uses of drones in their businesses.  

Chenoweth is using the information gathered by the numerous drone flights for long-term research. He’s studying how short-term atmospheric conditions affect the field with an eye toward climate change.

He now has three years of data available from that soybean field near Sterlington, but with each generation of technology, the data at his fingertips expands. Over time he’ll be able to compare weather conditions of one year to another, and how that played out in the field.

Credit Emerald McIntyre / ULM Photo Services
ULM Photo Services
Students take turns flying a drone under Dr. Chenoweth's supervision.

Chenoweth uses an assortment of cameras attached to the drones to determine the health of the crop. One of the cameras reads infrared reflection. “You can see a vegetation’s health,” Chenoweth said. “Healthy plants let off more infrared radiation, pinpointing where in the field crops may be suffering.”

When data from the camera is downloaded on computer, darker areas of the field indicate healthier plants. “If there’s a problem with a crop, the reduced radiation given off can provide a warning two weeks before the eye can detect it,” Chenoweth said.

Although the research points to how the technology can guide farmers to do their jobs more efficiently, Chenoweth says drones have not been put to use yet in northeastern Louisiana for many reasons.

Farmers don't like spending money when they don't have to, and this is a really good excuse for them not to spend money on chemicals.

This program is an opportunity to show potential clients and employers how they can benefit from using a drone. The drones can fly an entire field in a fraction of the time it would take a person to inspect it. They can pick out isolated problem areas so the correct treatment can be applied to just the sick plants.

The process is much quicker and more precise than treating an entire field with a dose of expensive chemicals. "Farmers don't like spending money when they don't have to, and this is a really good excuse for them not to spend money on chemicals," Chenoweth said.

Mark is a native of St. Louis, Missouri, where he frequented the Muny, a large outdoor theater specializing in musicals. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and moved to Monroe upon graduation in 1978 to begin work at The News-Star, where he is now a local content editor. He and his wife, Elaine, have been married since 1981. They have a daughter, Melissa, and lost a son, Greg, to complications with spina bifida in 1997.
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